Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Is Capitalism Christian?

Today (and tonight) we're continuing our study of the book of Acts, a most interesting look at early church life. In our texts today, we're looking at Acts 2:42-47 and Acts 4:23-5:11. In this passage we read about the kind of community undertaken by this group. Since many assume that America is or was a Christian nation, what makes it Christian? Is it the fact that a majority of Americans claim to be Christian or is it because we base our life together on what we read in Scripture?
Would a Christian nation allow citizens to sleep out in the cold or go bankrupt due to catastrophic illness? Is it "patriotic" to pay taxes if it means helping out those who are less privileged?

Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds them to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home from house to house and ate their food with glad and generous sincere hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved (Acts 2:43-47).

Liberation theologian Jose Miranda, in his provocative little book, Communism in the Bible,
The notion of communism is in the New Testament, right down to the letter -- and so well put that in the twenty centuries since it was written no one has come up with a better definition of communism than Luke in Acts 2:44-45 and 4:32-35. In fact the definition Marx borrowed from Louis Blanc, "From each one according to his capacities, to each one according to his needs," is inspired by, if not directly copied from Luke's formulation eighteen centuries earlier. There is no clearer demonstration of the brainwashing to which the establishment keeps us subjected than the officially promulgated conception of Christianity as anticommunist (Jose Miranda, Communism in the Bible, Orbis Books, 1982, p. 7).
If you respond that the former Soviet Union was communist, Miranda will answer that it was really "state capitalism."
But the point is -- if we're going to speak of faith and politics, it might be interesting to ask the question of the biblical perspective!!!


Anonymous said...

I have heard and thought this about Christian Communism.. and there are some very fine points to make. First.. they have as they had need, which means there wasn't a general "store house" but people did have things.. and there would be those with a lot and those with not much.. but they gave out of their wealth. In my mind.. Communism means everyone has the same. Also, you note the couple killed for "holding back".. if everything was common.. there would be nothing to hold back. Still wrestle with this.. but a Communism seems an extreme position.

All that said.. capitalism and Christianity are often at war with each other. The big assumption in capitalism and for that matter, democracy.. is that people have a "plub line", hopefully scripture.. that would keep them from a every man for himself society.

Would LOVE to hear more thoughts and points on this one.

mcdaniel clan said...

great post...just heard a friend call Norwegians "liberal" the other day because they are socialist and anti-war...kind of funny considering most of the Scandinavians i know are conservative, being me, said, "i guess thoseearly Christians were liberals too..."

Pastor Bob Cornwall said...

I wouldn't call myself socialist or communist, but I think we need to hear this voice and understand that the principle here is caring for the other. As Christians, there is no one Christian economic system, but there is a principle that should hold in check any system -- and that is love of neighbor, which seems at work here.

Anonymous said...

I see an inherent conflict between Christianity and raw Capitalism. The former is premised on love of neighbor which includes compassion and provision. The latter is based upon selfishness if not greed: the more you want, the harder you work, and the more you acquire, the more you get to keep. The capitalist state is dedicated to the protection of property rights and the balancing of the power of the majority (typically those of modest economic means) against the rights of minorities (including the wealthy - the right to acquire and retain property - and the poor - the right to survive).

The question for me is whether Christianity permits its adherents to live according to capitalist principles.

I think that communal model of ownership described in Acts Ch. 2 is not intended to prescribe the ideal Christian world. It is descriptive of a special circumstance: the shared assumption that the Second Coming is happening tomorrow if not today. In that context there is no point in individuals hanging on to property because "property" as a concept will be rendered meaningless when Jesus descends in a Cloud of Glory tomorrow.

In telling the story 50-60 years after Jesus death, the story teller speaks of the Acts community in the past tense, clearly recognizing that circumstances have changed, there is now a shared understanding that the Second Coming likely will not occur any time soon.

The very fact that the story teller is recording his story is indicative of the story teller's understanding that because the Second Coming will occur in the distant future there is a need to record the story for the intervening generations - oral conveyance not being so trustworthy.

With the changed understanding, the practice of commune living has been abandoned. The idea of commune living is not tenable for Christian communities as a long term survival strategy. There is a need for members to continue to produce income for themselves and for the community, and there is a need to steward personal and community property to fund the community and care for its more needy members. Jesus himself taught the parable of the Talents suggesting that those to whom much was given were compelled to steward their assets, and to reinvest them for the growth and benefit of the Kingdom.

So the task of the Christians is temper our secular Capitalistic notion that what we have acquired "belongs to us," with our Christian belief that all that we have has come to us as stewards, and "belongs ultimately to God." And then we are to live accordingly.


Anonymous said...

One point that was made to me when I asked this question to someone else. He mentioned it is tough to reconcile, but made one good point. This event occurred just after Pentecost and they were filled with the Holy Spirit. Clearly, we wouldn't say that about market participants today. Also, you could argue the monks had it right based on this model.

The problem today is most market participants don't have true Christian ethics. Rather "greed is good". There is something to be said about a man reaping what he sows and getting paid for a hard labor.. which are principals of Christianity and capitalism. But, to agree with Bob.. in Galatians Paul states that the one thing the Apostles asked of him was to "remember the poor", so right on that we must remember those in need.

Malishious Intent said...

If you read the whole section closely you will see that these Christians freely gave to the church. They were in no way forced. When the couple who sold their house and put that money at the feet of the apostles the sin was in lying about doing a good deed - not about not filling an obligation. Check out the book "God is at Work" and the author describes this in detail and also goes on to say that spiritual capitalism is what we should labor under.

Ivan Edgar said...

Capitalism is not based on greed rather capital i.e. the ability of an individual (rather than the state) to own capital/assets/land and on that basis have security against which to borrow.

This releases individual potential and ability which can then be measured by return on that capital based on effort and ability (and sometimes a little luck).

Whilst morally and legally we are equal it does not follow we are all equal in ability and therefore financial outcome.

If folk choose to sell a portion or all of their assets and give them away for some common cause – that is fine but most certainly is not communism which never allows anyone to have wealth in the first instance and if they had any would forcibly remove it.

The main driver it seems to me behind socialism in the “first world” is based on envy. We all want to have the possibility of self betterment and wealth creation but when it does not work out for some folk they simply resent their more successful brothers and want a piece of what they have without working for it, taking the risks, creating the business model etc.

Anonymous said...

Take note of Malishious Intent's comment. A close look at the Acts passage shows exactly that - people freely giving to meet the needs of others. Ananias and Sapphira were not put to death for not giving everything but for lying to God about their charity. Grace brings the freedom to give as much and as often as led by God. I would say Communism is wrong in that it is forced charity. I don't know if Capitalism is necessarily the "Christian" answer but it does allow for freedom of charity. Which is what Acts shows.

bala said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Aaron R. King said...

No economic system is perfect, and capitalism as well as socialism can both be exploited and misused. That said, I believe capitalism is inherently better than socialism. I would even say that capitalism is more Christian than socialism.

I did not say that capitalism is Christian. The Bible contains no culturally transcendent economic model. For anyone to declare any economic system as biblical would be to engage in a form of idolatry. But I believe capitalism is more consistent with biblical principles, and therefore more Christian than socialism.

The Bible makes it clear that every person has incredible worth in God's economy and, as a result, is endowed with great dignity. I believe it is capitalism that affords the individual with the best opportunity to realize his or her worth.

In capitalism, and the accompanying free enterprise system, every person has the opportunity to become his or her best. Whatever a person inherently has can become more in capitalism. Talent, skill, intelligence and effort can all be parlayed into wealth creation given enough time and persistence.

In capitalism, a person can earn his or her own way. While capitalism does not promise equal outcomes, it does offer equal opportunity and with opportunity anything is possible.

With capitalism's emphasis on the individual, a person must rely on self and/or God in order to have his or her needs met. Socialism sees the state as sovereign. Consequently, a person comes to rely on the state to have his or her needs met.

There is something self-affirming, something that underscores dignity, when a person earns his or her own way. In the Old Testament there are admonitions for farmers not to harvest all their crops but deliberately to leave some in the field so that the poor can glean. While the farmers were providing for the produce, the poor had to do something in order to have their needs met.

Not only does socialism undermine a person's reliance on self and God, it also undermines an individual's obligation to assist the poor -- as in the aforementioned example of gleaning. If the government is redistributing wealth to meet everyone's needs, why should anyone provide additional assistance?

Aaron R. King said...

Jesus was all about balance in all things. He was as much a Capitalist as he was a Socialist. In fact, he was really neither and yet both. Jesus had no problem with the State. It was religion that Jesus had issue with and it's effects on the individual and on our perception of GOD.

Matthew 22:15-22
15 Then went the Pharisees, and took counsel how they might entangle him in his talk.
16 And they sent out unto him their disciples with the Herodians, saying, Master, we know that thou art true, and teachest the way of God in truth, neither carest thou for any man: for thou regardest not the person of men.
17 Tell us therefore, What thinkest thou? Is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar, or not?
18 But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, Why tempt ye me, ye hypocrites?
19 Shew me the tribute money. And they brought unto him a penny.
20 And he saith unto them, Whose is this image and superscription?
21 They say unto him, Caesar's. Then saith he unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's.
22 When they had heard these words, they marvelled, and left him, and went their way.

Jesus, through His words and deeds and His adherence to the Law, would be far more comfortable with Tribalism, where the family or tribe is the basic economic unit. In modern society this would be the church or some other voluntary association between individuals or families.

Tribalism employs components of capitalism and socialism. Capitalism in that the means of production is not owned by the State, Socialism in the sense that the members of a tribe are bound to each other, to support their widows, their orphans, their sick and their poor.

Socialism was never intended to be fair, just, or successful. It was a ploy by a well-known Kenite that many think of as a Jew named Karl Marx to grab power away from the powerful by playing on the minds and hearts of the poor who wanted social justice. Karl Marx was actually a Kenite. Marx and Lenin called those that allied with their plot “useful idiots” because those people had no idea what they were getting themselves into. Marx and Lenin knew that the people would rise up against the rich in an effort to rob Peter to pay Paul. They used the covetousness of the people against them. In every case true socialism was instituted, those same very people that wanted revolution became enslaved to the new government. There was Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Mao, and Pol Pot that used socialism as a way to get enough allies to bring them into power. You know the consequences from there. Hitler is thought of as a right-winger, and he was for Europe in a sense. He wouldn’t be seen as a right-winger in America. Nazi stands for “national socialism” (national sozialismus), which can not be argued as a right-wing cause in America. Hitler used the anxiety of the working class to promote his power and also used their hatred for the Jews to nearly commit genocide. Stalin did very much the same thing after Lenin.

Capitalism, kept in check and not abused, is the greatest way to promote freedom. To be free from the oppressive kingdoms and users of socialism to promote their own power and desire to gather people into one group to keep their rule. If there wasn’t any sinful covetousness, the idea of socialism would die a fast, violent death. If there wasn’t any sinful covetousness, there would be no abusers of capitalism. It was fear of kings and those that wanted power that had the Founders write the Constitution. The Constitution limited powers of the government to stay out of the way of people and was the ultimate recipe for success. America, by way of the Constitution became the richest and most powerful nation on Earth while those that used and wanted socialism stayed or became oppressed. I’ll put the Constitution by the Founding Fathers up against the Kenite idea of socialism and it’s numerous examples of failure any day of the week.